My partner, as part of her masters, recently had to put together a presentation about the music in her life. The role it plays and played during her brief sojourn in this plane of existence. She loves music and is in possession of a wonderfully smooth jazz voice of her own. Although the very thought of giving a talk about her music terrified her. She is never that comfortable with public speaking (yet is a natural) and suffers from a baffling inferiority complex when it comes to college. I on the other hand was positively salivating at the prospect of pontificating for half an hour to a captive audience on the music I love, why I love it, how important it is and why their lives are lacking for having not experienced it on the multiple levels that I have. Okay, maybe not in such pompous terms.
I would even have gone to the lengths of picking the particular song that would be used to drown me out if I had gone over time à la some blubbering Hollywood star’s acceptance speech. On reflection that is probably comparable to the level of delusion I would suffer from given a forum to rabbit on about music and get marks for it. (It’s Jimmy Cliff – The bigger they come the harder they fall)
Growing up in rural Ireland during the eighties and early nineties my sources for music were limited to the radio and whatever my brothers had been listening to. I remember being impressed by Michael Jackson from a young age and I think Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer was the first music video that ever stuck with me; it is still one of my favourites. I recall playing guitar/tennis racket to “Walk this Way” and having a merciful short interest in Metal which I have fully recovered from. There were a few Smiths records knocking around the house which I wasn’t that keen on back then but have since come around to the genius of Morrissey/Marr.
I do remember one day in 1991, my eldest brother arrived back from college in Cork with a 12 inch under his arm, it was a record just to be clear and what follow changed what I thought of music for the rest of my life. Before this moment I had enjoyed music and listened to and enjoyed whatever was knocking about at that time. Apparently as a youngster I would run around the house singing Diana Ross’ Locomotion and it was thought (feared) that a career in “musical theatre” lay ahead of me. On this afternoon however what came through the ceiling from my brothers’ room was like nothing I had ever heard before. Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” had lyrics that were incomprehensible and expressed pain and despair which was equally incomprehensible to my 10 year old mind but it struck a note with me on some level. That was it then I consumed everything I could on the band and the bands that influenced them. Thanks to my brother this was as easy as copying all of his music. Possibly the one great thing about discovering a band or a sound is that it introduces you to a world that you never knew existed before. From Nirvana I stumbled on to Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Mercury Rev and Pavement to name a few. These are bands whose albums I regularly stomp around town listening to.
It was set in stone what teenage tribe I belonged to. Long hair, chequered shirt, military jacket, ripped jeans and an altogether surly disposition was the order of the day. “But you don’t understand” was a popular refrain. Ravers: they were the enemy with their Joe Bloggs baggy jeans and Tommy Hilfiger padded jackets, listening to music produced by machines if they didn’t have the core drummer, bass and guitar I was not interested. But then all that changed.
It wasn’t until my brother gave me Leftism by Leftfield that I opened my mind to dance music. Released in 1995 it is an amazing album, it really was a visceral experience the first time I heard it and this widening of my musical tastes saw me drift from indie rooms in nightclubs to purely dance clubs and all the shenanigans that went with them. I dabbled a little on decks but without the resolve or the attention span to excel at it I left to my more capable friends. Leftism was very much a gateway album and I consumed the many sub genres of electronic music as they sprung up like mushrooms. I had crossed over to the dark side, my younger teen self would have sneered at this version of me and my love of electronic music was only matched by my love of increasingly outlandishly baggy clothing. I recently saw a picture of myself at the superb Homelands dance festival in 1999 wearing trousers that could conceivably clothe a family of four. All copies have since been destroyed. That was a golden time for dance music in Ireland I went to several excellent festivals which belied the reputation of dance music being just for people on drugs and attracting a rough and dangerous crowd. Mind you I did attend Creamfields and that was as rough as a badgers arse. Again dance music opened up a world I’d previously never felt the need to explore and that was Hip Hop.
I guess in a list of best albums I have ever bought this particular album wouldn’t finish particularly high but it is an album that I will associate with a couple of really fun years in my life and also it is an album which I introduced a lot of people to. I am personally responsible for the sales of at least 9 copies of Jurassic 5 by Jurassic 5, which might not sound like a lot but in Ireland that’ll get you a top 20 hit. I first heard a drum n bass remix of Concrete Schoolyard played by Little Boy Flan in Costello’s in Limerick and fell in love with its infectious melody. I immediately found out who it was and ran out to buy the album. An old school mix of funk and jazz with some wonderful wordplay by its 4 MCs it is an album which has never aged, and surely that is the test of a classic. It is an album I will always associated with living in Dublin in my early twenties where I shared a house in Drumcondra with people from far flung places like South Africa, Germany and Achill Island. Great parties and clubs with great people in that flat in particular, it was a summer to remember and that album provided a sound track for it. I met one of those flat mates a few years later when she returned to Ireland and I asked her what brought her back, she said, it was that album.
That’s a lie, she wanted to recreate that summer. We both knew she was on a hiding to nothing but it’s a reflection of what a great time it was in our lives and I guess that is one of the reasons that Jurassic 5 has a special place in my heart. The next album on this trip down nostalgia lane and what is rapidly turning into an episode of desert island discs, is associated with one of the greatest live performances I have ever witnessed and a time in my life when I wasn’t in a particularly good place.
Arcade Fire released Funeral in 2005 and I instantly fell in love with the album but it wasn’t until I saw them live at the Electric Picnic later that year that how great this band really hit home. It was as close as this atheist could ever be to having a religious experience. I spent the rest of the weekend telling people who did not see them that they had wasted their weekend. What an arse, I know.
This is another album that I shared with many friends, giving it as Christmas and birthday presents on several occasions. At this stage in my life I had returned to work in Limerick, the circle of friends I had in Dublin had moved on to foreign climes and I was working in a warehouse. There were a few bright spots but for the most parts it was a grinding monotony. The same faces saying the same crap every day, I spent most of the time in a hazy bubble. I was not a happy camper with myself or my life but this album was a beacon that would never fail to take me away. A classic in the true sense of the word, I first saw the video for Lights Out on MTV, an animated effort where little terrors in Santa hats run riot in a Dickensian industrial complex, and was struck by the power and energy of the music. I still light up and sing up, much to my partner’s protestations, every time the shuffle throws them up. I am I a much happier place I my life now with someone I can envision spending the rest of my life with.
One of the things that I am really looking forward to in life is sharing a love of music with my kids. They say one of the greatest things in life is a shared experience and for me that is one of the greatest things about music. It has an ability to both connect with people and to connect people. I enjoy nothing more than hearing some new music whether it is the next bright things that look barely old enough to be let out at night or discovering that, hey I actually really like Hank Williams. I could have prattled on for a few more thousand words on this topic but I think I have made my point, whether it’s good times or bad everyone needs a soundtrack.